My Grandpa Arrived Here on a Boat. What Would He Make of This Crisis?

04/09/2015 13:13 BST | Updated 04/09/2016 10:59 BST

My grandpa came to the UK on a boat. In his mother's arms, his older brother by his side and with little else. He was what is now derided - an economic migrant. Not fleeing for his life, but in the hope of a better future, from a country that made it difficult for people like him to get by, long before the Nazis took charge. I imagine he was scared, that the journey was long and tough, that they didn't know what to expect when they arrived and how they would be greeted. 100 years later, what would he make of the migrant and refugee crisis unfolding daily on Europe's shores? What would he think about the attitudes towards those children fleeing a fate similar to the one he surely would have suffered had he stayed?

I expect that, like the many thousands signing petitions and expressing solidarity by sharing #refugeeswelcome, he would have wanted the UK to live up to its proud tradition of supporting people facing persecution and displacement by offering them safe passage and asylum. But when it comes to helping those caught up in the biggest wave of migration since the end of Second World War, the UK has fallen well short of some of its European partners, and its own legacy.

All refugee and migrant children need urgent protection, without any discrimination based on their nationality, residence or migration status. The Prime Minister's announcement that the UK will take 'thousands more' Syrian refugees from UN supported camps along the country's border is of course welcome news, but we also need to protect the people who have begun the treacherous journey to European shores, and those who have arrived from oppressive and war-torn countries with little more than the clothes on their backs.

This year alone, more than 2,500 people have died trying to reach Europe, the majority of them drowning in the Mediterranean. It was only after a concerted public campaign that the UK agreed to resume full-scale maritime rescue efforts to prevent desperate people dying in the sea. The search and rescue must continue, but also on land, as families move across countries and are vulnerable to exploitation and abuse. Children are often the most vulnerable to the dangerous travel conditions and need particular protection. Legal safe routes, including humanitarian visas must be provided to refugee children; otherwise we are giving business to the traffickers who profit from human misery.

We need to do what we can to create the conditions so people don't have to flee - unless there is a long term solution to the conflicts, oppression and hardships forcing people to leave their homes, this migrant and refugee crisis will continue. UK aid is supporting people within conflict affected regions with high numbers of displaced people, including £900million to meet the needs of Syrian refugees since 2012. Other rich nations need to step up and meet their aid commitments too. But aid alone will never solve the protracted problems countries face and it is not an either/or situation: while we try to deal with the root causes so people feel safe to stay, we must protect those who feel they have no choice but to leave. This means ensuring the provision of essential services at all times - including health care, food, emotional support, and education - as well as adequate shelter for migrants and refugees that keeps families together. Family reunification must be accelerated when children are separated from their parents, otherwise desperate families resort to smugglers to move their children across borders, putting their lives at risk.

For centuries people have been getting on boats in search of a better, safer life. My Grandpa made it and was able grow up and give something back to the country that took him in. Others, including Aylan Kurdi, tragically did not. His father has said he doesn't want his little boy to have died in vain, that the fate of Aylan and his brother Galip should shame the world into action. When European leaders meet in Brussels on 14 September Aylan and Galip should be front of mind. EU leaders must agree a plan to rescue, protect and provide essential services to migrant and refugee children and work to ensure no parent is forced to make the dreadful calculation about which is safer for their child - the land or the sea.

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